Josh Shaffer

‘If you will not appreciate our presence, suffer our absence.’ – Shaffer

A Day Without a Woman rally in Durham

VIDEO: Nashonda Cooke, a fifth-grade teacher at Eno Valley Elementary School, speaks to a crowd of roughly 100 people observing "A Day Without A Woman" at a rally in downtown Durham.
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VIDEO: Nashonda Cooke, a fifth-grade teacher at Eno Valley Elementary School, speaks to a crowd of roughly 100 people observing "A Day Without A Woman" at a rally in downtown Durham.

On an otherwise ordinary Wednesday in March, a fifth-grade teacher, a chocolate shop owner and a Durham schools office worker all stayed away from the job. Just so you’d miss them.

Wearing red T-shirts, red hats, red scarves and waving red banners, more than 100 other women gathered in downtown Durham to show the Triangle what work – especially the public classroom – would look like without them.

Citing unequal pay, sky-high child care costs, bare-bones school budgets and a political environment that targets both reproductive rights and the status of immigrants, they joined the nationwide walkout: A Day Without a Woman.

“If you will not appreciate our presence,” said Nashonda Cooke, a fifth-grade teacher at Durham’s Eno Valley Elementary School, “suffer our absence.”

The general strike drew rallies nationwide and sparked red wardrobe choices on what is also International Women’s Day, an observance that dates to the early 1900s and a women’s garment workers strike in New York.

On Wednesday, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system closed in anticipation of mass absences. Democratic congresswomen walked out of the U.S. House. Novelist S.E. Hinton, who wrote “The Outsiders” under a pair of initials because she didn’t think boys would read what a girl wrote, tweeted, “In honor of a Day without Women, I will not write a book today.”

The idea of skipping work sat poorly with some, even those in sympathy with the cause. Online critics dismissed the strike as an elitist privilege.

Mary Caton Lingold brought her son Henrik, who turns 3 this weekend, to his second rally this year in support of women’s rights. As she joined the rally in Durham on Wednesday morning, hoping to show solidarity, she carried a sign reading, “Todos Somos Americanos” – we are all Americans. But as a graduate student at Duke University, who works part-time in the library, she planned to work later.

“I chose not to strike in the afternoon,” she said, “because I work with a lot of women whom I didn’t want to burden.”

In Raleigh, the Videri Chocolate Factory on West Davie Street stayed closed Wednesday, announcing the decision a day ahead of time on Twitter. Co-owner Starr Sink said Videri’s staff of 27 is nearly 70 percent female and “doesn’t run without women.” Instead, the staff spent an optional day volunteering at Burkett Farm in Cary, which grows food for Interfaith Food Shuttle and other charities. Male employees were fine with the idea.

“The point is to put pressure on the men, but the men here are awesome,” Sink said. “These aren’t the men I’m trying to show.”

The latest statistics I could find showed that teachers in North Carolina are roughly 78 percent female. I know of no job more important, more stressful, more challenging and more disrespected than theirs.

“I’m here for teacher pay,” said Ursela Jones, a teacher mentor in Durham’s central office. “Education is female-dominated field, and I feel as thought we could be paid better.”

I’m sure the criticism to leave the classroom will be hurled their way, but they refuse to feel guilty, and I don’t blame them. This man says absence excused.

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